Full Circle: Growing Up in West Lake Hills
My maternal grandmother was born in Marshall, Texas, and the rest of my grandparents moved there as soon as they could. Both my parents were born there, and my brothers and I were born there as well. I was perfectly content to live my entire life in Marshall as a third-generation Marshallite. And then, when I was ten years old, we moved.
My father had accepted a position working for the lieutenant governor, and we would be moving to Austin—but just for a year. My parents, concerned about the lack of academic challenges in our hometown schools, asked their educator friends about appropriate schools in the Austin area for a kid like me, who read early, scored off the charts on the local school’s aptitude tests, and generally spent her days in the classroom sitting around waiting for the rest of the class to catch up. The answers were unanimous—the Eanes school district in West Lake Hills, just southwest of downtown, was small, academically outstanding, and the perfect choice for our family.
My parents rented a house in the school district, and we arrived in February of 1974. I literally shook with terror as I entered my fourth-grade classroom and met my stylish, super-cool young teacher who reminded me of Gloria Steinem with short hair—not the kind of teacher I had in Marshall. The kids, too, were very different than my friends back home—they seemed older, more sophisticated and worldly. My thick east Texas/Southern accent immediately triggered teasing and name-calling—until math class rolled around.
Based on my grades and test scores, I had been placed in the advanced section of all my classes, and into the fifth-grade math class. Once my classmates realized that I’d been assigned to sit with the top students, the teasing lessened—and when I got up to follow the other kids into the fifth grade math class, the teasing stopped for good. Suddenly, I was respected—and the other students were quick to help me catch up with the curriculum, which, depending on the subject, was one to two years ahead of my hometown class. Suddenly it didn’t matter what I looked or sounded like—I was intelligent enough to thrive in a school district that valued excellence in all areas. I was in.
The hardest part of living in Austin was being new. Although my dad had had the experience of living away from Marshall and establishing friendships and connections during his college days, none of the rest of us were used to the idea of having to create our own networks and support systems. It was especially hard for me, as a painfully shy and insecure kid, but with very few exceptions, my classmates were quick to welcome and include me as their new friend. Still, we had a lot to learn about the ins and outs of local customs, traditions, and society—but that turned out to be the best part of all. Austin was much more open, relaxed, and tolerant than our hometown had been, and nonconformity was not only acceptable, it was often preferred, and even celebrated.
Still, I wondered what life would be like when we eventually moved back to Marshall. It was obvious to me that I would be way ahead of my class when I returned—would I have to skip a grade, or maybe two? What would it be like to be so much younger than my new classmates? How would they treat me after being gone for a year? How would they keep me down on the farm, after I’d seen Austin? My parents were obviously asking themselves the same questions, ultimately deciding that staying where we were would be the best for us kids in terms of our education and exposure to culture. It was a major step outside their comfort level, but they never looked back.
Fast-forward about twenty years. My husband and I had been living in Dallas, then the center of the Texas high-tech industry, for six years, and we wanted out. I’d moved from Austin to Dallas, my husband’s hometown, when we married, thinking that I’d love living in the big city. Wrong. I was miserable—everyone was too image-conscious and focused on financial wealth. My husband missed the live music scene that he’d fallen in love with in college. We were homesick.
And so my husband landed a job in Austin, and we started thinking about where we wanted to live. A number of his colleagues lived in a fairly new neighborhood south of town, and I assumed we’d start our search there because of its relative proximity to the office. Wrong again. My husband wanted to look in the WLH area so that our future children could go to what he considered to be one of the best school districts in the state. Nothing could have made me happier. The first movie we saw when we moved back was a low-budget local indie film called “Dazed and Confused”—the first shot of the Top Notch burger joint, with Peter Frampton wailing “Show Me the Way” in the background, reminded me so much of our first years in Austin that I burst into tears from happiness at being home.
Eighteen years later, we are living (with our three children and two giant poodles) in the neighborhood adjacent to my parents’, within walking distance of all 13 grade levels in the Eanes school district. Our children are bright, happy, and challenged through school and extracurricular activities—but there’s also plenty of time and opportunities for nature walks on the Barton Creek Greenbelt or some Frisbee golf at Zilker Park. My husband’s career in high tech is flourishing after a switch from hardware to software, and I am busy writing, parenting, and volunteering at the kids’—and my—schools.
The friends I made when I first moved to WLH are still among my closest today—in fact, one of them lives just down the street from me—and now our kids are going to school together just as we did. The area has exploded in population and much has changed, making the places and traditions that haven’t that much more precious. The funniest thing has happened, though. This area has grown so much in the past forty years that my family is now considered to be Old Austin—or at least Old West Lake Hills. Somehow, we’re back where we would have been had we stayed in Marshall—surrounded by friends, familiar with the town, comfortable with the lifestyle—only now, we’re wiser, more educated, and happier. And I wouldn’t change a thing.